Namibia has a rich and varied wildlife. Its birds include many species restricted to southern Africa, and while only one is an endemic, Dune Lark, others such as the Herero Chat can be found only here or in Angola. It has a superb array of mammals, most of which are concentrated on the wonderful Etosha, where we’ll spend four nights. All this combines with an exemplary infrastructure: the roads are great, the accommodations comfortable, and the food delicious, and we’ll find a friendly welcome everywhere we travel.
We’ll begin in the Khomas Highlands at the gateway to the Namib Desert before visiting the iconic red dunes of Sossusvlei, best appreciated in the early or late sun, which throws up those famous curving shadows. We’ll then cross the huge Namib-Naukluft National Park to the infamous Skeleton Coast to visit Walvis Bay, teeming with millions of birds, before heading inland to the towering domed rocks of the Erongo Mountains. From there we’ll move on to the classic African backdrop of Etosha National Park and finish the tour on the Waterberg Plateau.
Day 1: The tour begins with the departure of the Sunbird group on an overnight flight from London to Windhoek evening. WINGS participants traveling directly to Windhoek should arrive no later than this evening (see Note **, below).
Day 2: After joining the Sunbird group arriving from London, we should have time for birding at a few sites close by. These should provide a fine introduction to the birds of Namibia: Acacia Pied Barbet, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Pririt Batis, Black-chested Prinia, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, and Southern Masked Weaver are all possible before dinner. Night near Windhoek.
Day 3: We’ll rise early to look for one of Namibia’s special birds, Rockrunner, and during our outdoor breakfast we may be distracted by Short-toed Rock Thrush, Carp’s Tit, Familiar Chat, and Bradfield’s Swift.
We’ll then begin our journey south. We should soon see massive Sociable Weaver nests clinging to roadside poles and trees, and some may have the tiny Pygmy Falcon in attendance. Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks will be using the roadside poles as a convenient lookout perch, while other raptors could include Black-winged Kite or the mighty Martial Eagle. Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rufous-crowned Roller, Southern Anteater-chat, Common Fiscal (of the local “white-browed” Latakoo form), and Chat Flycatcher should be some of the obvious species, and groups of passerines could include White-browed Sparrow Weaver and lots of Lark-like Buntings.
Our destination is a working guest farm at Namibgrens, which is perched on the edge of the Khomas highlands close to the famous Spreetshoogte Pass. The pass is a gateway to the vast Namib Desert and the perfect base from which to explore the area. Night at Namibgrens.
Day 4: We’ll begin by birding the grounds of the farm, where Groundscraper Thrush, Karoo Scrub-robin, and Crimson-breasted Shrike are all pre-breakfast possibilities. We’ll then drive through the Spreetshoogte Pass, where, from the top, we can gaze across the immense Namib-Naukluft wilderness stretching away toward the coast. The pass usually hosts a variety of birds, from smart Augur Buzzards to the stunning Bokmakierie, as well as the brilliant Scarlet-chested and tiny Dusky Sunbirds. It is also one of the traditional sites to see Herero Chat, a bird that is restricted to Namibia and neighboring Angola. This distinctive flycatcher uses the small acacia trees as a lookout but can at times be remarkably difficult to locate, although its Golden Oriole–like call often gives it away.
This dry country is good for larks, and we should see Stark’s, Sabota, and Karoo Long-billed today. We’ll also hope for a sighting of the impressive Ludwig’s Bustard. We’ll pause at Solitaire, an isolated and quirky outpost where a small bakery is famous for its delicious apple pie. The trees surrounding the buildings can be a good place to see Rosy-faced Lovebirds coming to drink at dripping taps as we defend our apple pie against Cape and Great Sparrows and Cape Starlings! Although we are in a remote part of the country, Sossusvlei is one of Namibia’s primary tourist attractions—it is here that you can see those huge brick-red sand dunes that adorn the guidebook pages. We’ll aim to visit the dunes in the afternoon when the crowds have mostly dispersed. It is then that the low light creates dark curving shadows that contrast with the deep red sand, forming endless photo opportunities. There are also of course birds to look for, and this will be the first of several chances for the endemic Dune Lark, along with Common Ostrich, Rüppell’s Korhaan, Greater Kestrel, and Mountain Wheatear. Night in the Sesriem area.
Day 5: There may be more time this morning to search for more new birds, perhaps including Secretarybird and Karoo Chat, before we continue toward the Namib Desert (via Solitaire; another apple pie, anyone?), the oldest desert in the world, and the Namib-Naukluft National Park, a vast reserve the size of Switzerland. This is a drive to enjoy, through landscapes that unfold with dramatic passes and dark inselbergs before leveling out as we near the coast.
Birds are not numerous here, but there are two in particular that we’ll look for. The striking pale Namib form of Tractrac Chat lives in this harsh environment, where it can appear to be an almost pure white bird sitting on some low vegetation. It shares this stark habitat with small flocks of Gray’s Larks that scurry over the sand in search of seeds.
We should reach the coast and the seaside town of Walvis Bay in the afternoon, and after checking into our hotel, we’ll take our first look at the lagoon. One thing is certain: there will be lots of birds—tens of thousands of them, in fact—but how close they might be depends on the tide. Immediately obvious will be the pink Lesser Flamingos stretching to the horizon, with smaller numbers of Greater Flamingos among them and very large flocks of Cape Cormorants constantly streaming up and down the lagoon. Less numerous will be the noisy African Black Oystercatchers, while Great White Pelicans can often be found right up on the boulevard that borders the lagoon. Night at Walvis Bay.
Day 6: The extensive salt pans at Walvis Bay are an excellent place for birds. As we drive along the convenient roadways that separate the pans, it will be hard to escape both species of flamingoes, but they will be mingling with hordes of Cape Teal, Pied Avocets, and a mix of early migrant waders such as Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-bellied Plover, Red-necked Phalarope, Curlew Sandpiper, and Little Stint. Around the edges there will be White-fronted Plovers dashing back and forth, and we’ll try to pick out Chestnut-banded Plover, a dapper African wader typically found on salt pans. Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls are always present, along with the large Swift and Caspian Terns that dwarf the local specialty, Damara Tern, often seen diving for tiny fish in the salt pans and out on the main lagoon.
If we’ve not yet seen Dune Lark, we’ll have another chance near Walvis Bay, and there are also some good places to see Gray’s Lark in the strip of desert that runs inland behind the coast. We may also travel up the coast to Swakopmund to search for Bank Cormorant and explore places around Walvis Bay for Red-faced Mousebird, Orange River White-Eye, and African Reed Warbler. And while we’re on the coast it would be a crime not to take dinner one night at a local seafood restaurant. Night at Walvis Bay.
Day 7: We’ll leave the coast and strike inland. If we still haven’t seen Herero Chat, we’ll make a detour to visit Spitzkoppe, a gigantic inselberg that rises out of the plain. Other species in this area include Pale-winged Starling, Rosy-faced Lovebird, and Layard’s Tit-babbler, while Verreaux’s Eagles float overhead.
Our destination is the Erongo Mountains, where our lodge is located in a wonderful mixture of scrub and mature trees woven in and around the smooth red rocks. There are some special birds here, and in particular we hope to see the rare Hartlaub’s Francolin, whose strident calls echo around the rocky habitat at dawn, and the smart White-tailed Shrike, a striking black and white bird that is restricted to Namibia and parts of Angola. As darkness falls, the barking calls of Freckled Nightjar will fill the air and we’ll stand a good chance of seeing the birds as they flit around the lodge lights. Night in the Erongo Mountains.
Day 8: We’ll have a pre-breakfast walk around the lodge grounds. As well as catching up with Hartlaub’s Francolin, we should find Red-billed Francolin, along with Green-winged Pytilia, White-browed Scrub Robin, and Black-faced Waxbill, to name a few.
Setting off once more, we’ll follow the road north toward Etosha, one of Africa’s great wildlife destinations. Etosha—the Great White Place—is a magnificent national park. At its center lies the massive baked salt pan that gives it its name. Some seventy miles long, this shimmering expanse is dry most of the time, receiving only a thin cover of water after significant rain. However, this impressive natural feature is surrounded by a rich habitat of savannah, mopane woodland, and open grassland, all of which are alive with birds and animals. Dotting the area is a series of waterholes that provide an essential lifeline for the wildlife and a unique viewing opportunity for visitors.
Etosha National Park is huge, covering some 8800 square miles, so we’ll divide our stay between the Western, Central, and Eastern sections. We’ll begin in the west, driving across Damaraland to the western end of Etosha. We’ll arrive at our lodge in time for an afternoon game drive and our first chance to see some of the area’s abundant mammals. Giraffe should be immediately obvious towering above the trees, and we’ll have a very good chance of seeing our first African Elephants. There will be lots of antelope, ranging from the huge Eland to the tiny Damara Dik Dik, and with so much prey around, a sighting of a Lion or Spotted Hyena can also be expected. We’ll also take part in a night drive here in the hope of seeing some nocturnal wildlife. Possible species include Aardvark, Aardwolf, Bat-eared Fox, the strange Spring Hare, White-tipped Mongoose, and Small-spotted Genet, while nightbirds could include Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Spotted Thick-knee, or Rufous-cheeked Nightjar. Around the lodge we may encounter Little Sparrowhawk, Damara Hornbill, or Madagascar Bee-eater. Night at the western perimeter of Etosha.
Days 9–10: We’ll take an early breakfast on day 9 and then leave our lodge to make a slow drive toward the heart of Etosha. Our drives out on the plains will provide us with a wonderful variety of encounters. In the areas of open grassland we’ll be searching for Kori Bustard, Helmeted Guineafowl, Temminck’s and Double-banded Coursers, Red-capped, Spike-heeled, and Pink-billed Larks, Capped Wheatear, Desert Cisticola, Rufous-eared Warbler, and African Pipit. Overhead, the open skies are the domain of the park’s many raptors, and we’ll be looking for both Lappet-faced and African White-backed Vultures, Tawny Eagle, and Bateleur.
These plains are also home to large herds of Springbok, Blue Wildebeest, Warthog, and Burchell’s Zebra, all of which will join other species at one of the many waterholes. Groups of African Elephants often spend long periods wallowing in the cool water, and elegant Black-faced Impalas and beautiful Greater Kudus nervously creep around the edges—nervous because a pride of Lions could appear at any moment—while the Giraffes are more confident as they attempt to get their heads down to the water. One of the real stars here can be Black Rhinoceros, and although after dark is best for these shy mammals, we may see them in the daytime seeking shade from the intense sun. Black-backed Jackals seem to be everywhere, and it is not unusual to find groups of Spotted Hyenas coming to the waterholes. Birds also need to drink. At some of the more open waterholes the morning air is filled with the distinctive calls of Namaqua Sandgrouse, flights of which are constantly coming and going. These birds are always very wary when drinking, as indeed they should be with the attendant Lanner Falcons always on the lookout for a meal. Occasionally the abundant Namaqua Sandgrouse are joined by the much rarer Burchell’s Sandgrouse, their reddish color and lack of tail streamers helping us separate them out. Many Cape Turtle and Laughing Doves will join the throng, as will the common Grey-backed and perhaps a few Chestnut-backed Sparrow-larks. Waders are also attracted to the pools, which often have some resident Kittlitz’s Plovers in attendance, while it’s not unusual to see a Hamerkop stalking the water’s edge.
The mosaic of savannah, scrub, and woodland of Etosha is crisscrossed by numerous tracks that let us get close to many of its birds. Lilac-breasted Rollers allow a close approach, and both Red-crested and Northern Black Korhaans creep around the small bushes and can often be found on the roadside, while the bushes hold a variety of birds such as African Grey and Southern Red-billed Hornbills, Long-billed Crombec, African Barred Warbler, Burnt-necked Eremomela, and Southern White-crowned Shrike. On one day we’ll take lunch at Okaukuejo, which boasts a fine waterhole where we can spend time sitting, cold drink in hand, just watching what comes in. Nights in central Etosha.
Day 11: We’ll now move to the eastern part of Etosha, and our drive there will take in more waterholes along the way. We’ll stop at another lodge to search the grounds for the distinctive Bare-cheeked Babbler, another bird found only in Namibia and Angola. This lodge is also usually home to a resident Barn Owl and a tiny African Scops Owl, both of which we hope to see at their daytime roosts, and we could find Violet Wood-Hoopoe and Black-backed Puffback as well.
From our eastern base we’ll undoubtedly have many repeat encounters with the birds and mammals that have entertained us over the past few days. However, there will be new things to look for as we search for Swainson’s Francolin, Red-necked Falcon, Shikra, Gabar Goshawk, Yellow-billed Hornbill, Meyer’s Parrot, Rufous-naped Lark, Black-faced Babbler, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, and Scaly-feathered Finch, to mention a few. Night near Namutoni.
Day 12: Taking our reluctant leave of Etosha, we’ll begin our return journey toward Windhoek. Before we reach there, however, we have one final place to visit, the renowned Waterberg Plateau. This dramatic and very prominent feature rises some 700 feet out of the eastern plains. We’ll arrive in time to spend some of the afternoon birding this unique region, with one species in particular, Rüppell’s Parrot, high on our list. This attractive bird, a near-endemic, can be found feeding on the seed pods of tall acacia trees around the lodge. In this rocky habitat we’ll have another chance for Hartlaub’s Francolin, while Golden-tailed and Bennett’s Woodpeckers, African Hawk Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon are all possible. Night near Waterberg Plateau.
Day 13: We’ll spend the first half of the day looking for birds and mammals around the plateau, and then set out on the drive back to Windhoek. Night in Windhoek.
Day 14: The tour concludes this morning in Windhoek..